The power of prayer: is it time to come clean with the rabbi?

Posted on July 31, 2007

I wrote recently,

I had a dream the other night about having a meeting with my counselor and my rabbi and my husband and me. Sort of like a team approach to helping me cope when things are bad, and even when things are okay, or dare I say, good. But then I am back to what is appropriate to ask for.

I cannot stop thinking about this idea of a team approach. At the same time I know it cannot be done as I dreamt it, for logistical reasons. I began thinking about how I could achieve the same effect without us all in the same room.

Today I saw the psychiatrist’s assistant for my monthly check-in. My meds continue to work at 30 mg/day. My anxiety is minimal and related to actual stressors. There is still no hint of mania, reinforcing their decision to scrap the bipolar diagnosis. My only problem is sleep disturbance. I continue to wake for 1-2 hours in the middle of the night. Lunesta is not working to keep me asleep and I risk morning panic attacks. She prescribed Ambien for me to see if it will help. I have been managing on about 5 hours of sleep a night for the past month.

I decided to ask her what she thought would be appropriate to ask the rabbi for. When he asks, what can we do, how should I answer? Especially knowing that October and the next major depression cycle is looming.

Ah, she said, pastoral care can be very important. She approved that I was asking now, before things got bad. She did say that the worse October/January depressions were almost certainly Seasonal Affective Disorder. She said exercise and being outside, getting even a little sunlight, would be extremely important for me. We might need to increase my meds during the winter, she said. I might have to wait until spring to try and get pregnant again, since she believes the increase in meds carries an increased risk of miscarriage.

She said what I should tell the rabbi is that I need his support. That I need him to understand what I’m going through, that the depression and anxiety may be lessened by medication but would likely never go away completely. That I may have to deal with this for the rest of my life. She said I should ask him for healing prayers, that I should not underestimate the power of prayer. I had to smile at that. She does not know about this blog.

I asked her if there were tangible, specific things I should ask him for and she said yes. Because shul is so important to me, because my depression and anxiety attack my Jewish identity, I should ask to meet with him regularly a few times a year, preferably before the anticipated depressive cycles. Just to check in. Just to see how things are going, how I am coping in shul, if there are things I feel I need while I am there.

Her answer helped but it scared me too. It scared me because it means I would have to be more honest with him. I’d have to be more open with him.

I might have to tell him about this blog.

I’d have to tell him that explaining my depression by using a 2000-year-old Talmudic theological world view makes more sense to me than any modern medical or psychiatric description.

I’d have to tell him that I have difficulty trusting him.

I’d have to tell him about the hurt that continues to accumulate.

I’d have to tell him about periodically feeling Unseen.

I’d have to tell him about how my illness affects my perceptions and social interactions with others at shul.

I’d have to tell him that I see quite plainly others’ demands on his time, his energy, his attention. I’d have to tell him how my problems seem insignificant in comparison to others who need him, and how that leads me to not even ask in the first place. How I don’t want to add to the demand.

I’d have to tell him that even telling him all this is risky because there is a precedent for lack of support within our shul, that even he does not always follow through.

I’d have to tell him that when we do meet and talk, it means the world to me, but it also raises my hopes and I can’t always afford to do that.

I don’t know if I can do it, tell him all that.

I’m afraid of hurting him. I’m afraid of criticizing him. I’m afraid of destroying whatever relationship we currently have.

I’m afraid of his reaction, that he’d be angry with me, whether it was for keeping all this from him all this time or for feeling it in the first place.

I’m afraid of being so vulnerable when I’m half-expecting that any meeting with him will result in my getting hurt, if the meeting even happens in the first place.

I don’t know if I would be opening the door to more pain or opening the door to a more complete healing.

…for the sin which we have committed before Thee in speech; …and for the sin which we have committed before Thee in presumption or in error…


  1. Rivka

    Rabbi wac: I talked with my husband last night and with my regular counselor today. Everyone is unanimous that I should make an appointment to talk to my rabbi. I have given my promise I will, which I extend here as well. I do not take my promises lightly. I’ll write more in a separate post.

    Thank you, more than I can express here, for your suggestions and feedback. I am honored that you should find any of what I write here guiding. It means a great deal to know someone else might be helped, too. Thank you.

    EK: I’ve missed you. You’re right, it’s scary and risky to be Seen yet at the same time coming out from hiding may be essential to coping with this in a healthy long-term way. Not that “coming out” has any bearing on my anonymity, which is still necessary, but that there are other ways of hiding that I’m very good at and I maybe need to stop doing some of those. Thank you.

    Ezzie: Thank you. I used to feel this sort of trepidation standing in line for the roller coaster, and noticed that I was far more scared in line than I ever was on the ride itself. I will remind myself of this, especially as I approach a meeting with the rabbi.

    Jendeis: great minds must think alike. My regular counselor and my friend D both suggested the same thing as well. Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I will indeed be following your suggestion.

    Anonymous: No I haven’t. My marriage isn’t really an issue, and I have a strong history with my rabbi. I think what I am needing from him is something best achieved in person, though I am so grateful for the support here on the J-blogosphere!

  2. Jendeis


    In order to help speak with your rabbi, you may want to try the exercise of writing him a letter. You can either give it to him when you meet with him or just use it to compose your thoughts or give it to him prior to your meeting.

    Actually, I think this post serves as a good illustration of what you are going through and what your anxieties are for yourself and for your rabbi. Maybe just print out the post (if you want to conceal that it’s from a blog, just cut and paste into a blank document).

    Sending good thoughts your way.

  3. Unknown

    I’d trust the counselor on this one. In general, I’m a fan of being open; I think it helps more than it could possibly hurt, and that the fear of opening up is often greater than any pain from actually doing so.


  4. Ezer K'negdo

    ditto what RWAC says. often, people are Unseen, because they are afraid to be Seen. as RWAC says, some rabbis may have a 6th sense to ‘read’ what people are not telling them; most rabbis (and most people) need more guidance to understand what is truly needed. if he is a true pastor, he will welcome the openness of your comments and take them to heart.

    i am glad you are writing again.

  5. rabbi without a cause


    Please talk to him directly.

    Please, please, please find the strength to talk to him directly.

    If I might be so bold as to make a further suggestion, I’d say to talk to him about the needs, the tangible, practical things he can do. The rest – the problems until now, the lack of support – should wait, if you can do that. As you note, focussing on that at this stage could do more harm than good.

    But please, speaking as a rabbi: Please do talk to him. Some rabbis, perhaps, can intuit what should be done on their own; the rest of us need your help and, yes, guidance.

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